Fears grow of European attack as Iran links up with al–Qaeda
Published 16/02/2012 | 09:51
IRAN has improved its ties with al–Qaeda as part of a campaign to target Western interests around the world that could lead to a spectacular attack in Europe.
The Islamic regime, which was accused of attempting to assassinate Israeli diplomats in three countries this week, is seeking to expand the network of Western enemies it assists, officials believe.
As a result, Tehran has loosened restrictions on high level al–Qaeda operatives under its controls as well as offering financing and training to the terrorist group's senior planners, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Security experts said that recent intelligence suggested Iran and al–Qaeda could attempt to find a common project in Europe, possibly targeting the London Olympics, which opens in July.
"This is a warning to the West that 'if you consider attacking our facilities then there will be consequences'," said Anthony Skinner, the director of the political risk consultants, Maplecroft. "This would be a significant development that would represent a massive upgrade in al–Qaeda's capacity to strike."
The warning came as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, said Iran's "terrorist activities" had been "exposed" by three apparently linked attacks this week targeting Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and Thailand.
Thai intelligence officials said yesterday that the bombs found in the Bangkok blasts on Tuesday were similar those used in attacks in New Delhi and the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Monday and that they had also been prepared for use against leading Israeli diplomats.
"At this time, Iran's terrorist activities have been exposed to everyone," Mr Netanyahu said.
"Nations of the world must condemn these incidents and draw red lines against this Iranian aggression. Aggression like this, if it is not stopped, will end up in spreading."
Sky News reported on Wednesday that Iran had sealed a deal with the core al–Qaeda leadership to provide advanced explosives training and "some funding and a safe haven" two years ago, a pact that had become "operational".
Security experts involved in Olympics planning said Iranian assistance would enable more sophisticated attacks. Until now the most likely threat to the event had been seen coming from "lone wolf" figures inspired by al–Qaeda propaganda.
British officials said Iran was known to use proxy groups such as al–Qaeda but there had been no new lines of investigation opened into suspected plots involving the two sides.
Terrorism experts said assistance from Iran could give al–Qaeda a lifeline of new funding and additional support. Potential co–operation in European countries would have benefits for both.
"Areas they could help include assistance, faciliation of travel and targeting," said Magnus Ranstorp, a director at the Swedish National Defence College. "There are few terror groups that could pull off the type of operation that was exposed in Thailand."
While Iran has denied responsibility for Tuesday's blasts in Bangkok, Israel has blamed Tehran both for that and for the two bombs targeting its diplomats in India and Georgia on Monday.
Officials appeared to give weight to that theory yesterday, when Itzhak Shohan, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand, said:"From what we can assume that is the same network."
A senior Thai intelligence officer said the three men intended to attack Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.
"These three Iranian men are an assassination team and their targets are Israeli diplomats, including the ambassador," he told AFP news agency. "Their plan was to attach bombs to diplomats' cars."
Malaysian police arrested Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, the third resident of the house being used by Iranian operatives to construct explosive devices, after he fled the Thai capital.
Neighbours in the quiet cul–de–sac in Bangkok say the Iranian men rented the single–storey house a month ago.
Thai police said that they had discovered two radios packed with 3lb and 4lb of C4 plastic explosives and magnets that might have been used to attach the devices to cars.
They have charged the two captured Iranians, Saeid Morati, 28, whose legs were blown off, and Mohammad Hazaein, 42, with causing explosions and attempted murder.